Monday, 7 August 2017

Spy Quest Mission - Part II (This time it's Personal)

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This post follows up on my professional experience of meeting Spy Quest author David Goucher and details my experiences with my youngest son.

I got excited about Pokemon Go this time last year after downloading the game to "See what all the fuss was about" after a fantastic early experience which matched John Hankes aims I felt that the all elusive "Product Market fit" had been achieved (See Pokemon Go Tech Vs Policy Makers).

The exact same can be said of my Spy Quest experience with my son.

As the meeting was in a book shop I thought I'd pick up Spy Quests Polybius and get through the first couple of chapters.

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Not sure if this was intentional or not but the opening chapter being set in the 1980s provides a bit of nostalgia for the grown ups reading to their kids in the way that Wreck it Ralph does (For more about this meeting please see Spy Quest Mission - Part I).

No Way Man! Too Cool!
The day after my first meeting with David and I take my son out for a walk specifically to talk about my meeting with David.

The reason? Because we tell our kids that they can do anything they set their mind to and Mr Goucher and Agent Jones exemplifies this!!

I tell him about everything from my previous post about Spy Quest. Books are very important to us so to be able to say that David became a police officer because of the books that he read helps demonstrate one of our mantras very well:

"That Books are the most powerful weapons in the world" 

(We tell our kids that their words are the most powerful things in the world and that books are the most powerful weapons).

Of course they will come up with all kinds of "Ah what about swords, guns and bombs etc, etc"

"Well what would you do if you wanted to make a sword or gun or bomb, how would you make one?" We'll ask.

"I'd get a book about it" Point made. Thank you very much! Lol.

We discuss how getting into the police took 6 years and that his growth mindset saw him become a real life spy guy... and now he's training kids to be spy guys.

I discuss how people loved playing Spy Quest when they were on holiday so much that they told Disney to check it out. I told him that he's worked with Stan Lee's right hand man, Andy Briggs.

I talk about the plot of the first book about the Polybuis urban legend and how the hero of the book wins a contest because he's good at computer games.


Is a phrase that's used a number of times on our walk... and that's before we've even read the book or try the game! He must have stopped 5 or 6 times to exclaim the statement above.

If I worked at a school I'd most definitely arrange for David to stop by to talk about his books, as well as to discuss his work as a police officer and to run a Spy Quest mission!!

We agree to stop by the book shop to get the book.

Chapter 1 - Hooked!
Having a house full of gamer boys the plot soon has his imagination, especially as he can identify with the frustrations of being interrupted with one of his games, as the young hero of Polybuis does by his sister.

The book and David's story sure has his imagination fired up as we read the first few chapters.

Chapter 2 - Family Fun
When we come across the first Spy Quest code in the book we get the whole family involved. When was the last time that the 16 and 14 year old willingly did something that their little brother was doing?

Now let me think? Oh yeah. This time last year with Pokemon Go.

Everyone gives the code a go with some interesting (And by 'Interesting' I mean in a "we'd-be-rubbish-spy-guy-kind-of-way") results.

Isaac is keen to know if his code was right and asks if I can send it to David.

Chapter 3 - Mysterious Call
The day that I send it a mysterious message appears on Skype. It simply says

"Agent Isaac, I need your help" Agent Jones.

Just like the book we wonder about how Agent Jones was able to get in touch with him? How did they know our Skype username? We also wonder why Isaac and not any one else in the house was contacted? "

"Maybe it's because kids make the best spy guys... Just like the book!" Isaac exclaims.

Isaac puts on the headset and takes the call there is an intense look of seriousness on his face, something that the one word answers and "Ah! Yeah! Yes!" comments don't convey.

Agent Jones then speaks to me and says in a very professional and matter of fact tone

"Agent Isaac has a mission at 10am tomorrow morning... Log onto the Spy Quest website then for further instructions"

Chapter 4 - I will Say this Only Once
At precisely 10:00 We log into the website. There are 4 missions all are related to the first Spy Quest book.

It's all very cloak and danger stuff as I'm the only one in the house that's allowed to know what's going on.

"Right what's your password?" I whisper

A blank face. Well that's not the best start to his "I will say this only once" Spy guy career. Lol! Dad offers a helping hand.

NB It's worth noting that the next day he blurts out the password when we're reading the book and he exclaims "It must have been because of a code/subliminal message in the book that made me remember it" Clever Agent Jones, he's thought of everything and knows his young proteges are just starting out so has a reminder coded into his books.

Chapter 5 - The Kindness Brief
When we log in we are met with a message that says he's been selected for his spy guy qualities and because he is
"Kind and thoughtful and never gives up"

There is more of a big deal about the second paragraph than the first in our house... So high fives all round.

Chapter 6 - Mission Disaster... Intense Reading!
We check out the first mission. We have one hour to answer a question about a chapter that we have not read yet so we check it out. We type in the answer but "The Computer says 'No'"

Eh? We think to ourselves?
Maybe it's a test. Maybe we need to answer the questions using one of the codes? Nope?
Maybe there's a hidden field? Not that we can see.

The time runs out for mission #1 and the same thing happens for mission #2.

My young Spy guy is crestfallen. Fortunately we had just read a part of Polybius where the young hero also had a bad start to his career as an undercover agent.

I highlight that both questions were parts of the book that we had not read yet, and suggest we read more of the book so we're ready for the next two missions.

What followed is what Joy from Inside Out might term a "Core Memory" we snuggled up and some of the most active reading and listening that I've ever had with my kids followed. Along with all kinds of questions and Spy guy ideas.

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We read half the book in one sitting.

Chapter 7 - Initiative
After reading the book Isaac wonders if Torraz and Boris have hacked the SQA website and asks if he can Skype the answers to the first 2 missions to Agent Jones.

Mission 3 and 4 are completed on time, without drama and using the more conventional communication channel of the Spy Quest website.

Chapter 8 - Imitation Game
Related imageIt's always fantastic when we can use age appropriate books to introduce some grown up themes.

We used Yertle the Turtle to introduce the kids to Rose Parks and the Civil Rights movement.

When talking about cracking codes and the debt that we owe to the people who keep us safe where else would you start?

There was some active learning going on when we discussed Alan Turing's work.

(Not to trivalise Turing's work but there have also been links made in films like National Treasure too).

Chapter 9 - Active Learning: Comprehension
I hated comprehension at school. Today I understand that it's called "Close Reading." What didn't help was the text chosen. Sunset Song in education has a lot to answer for!

Through Spy Quest Isaac has had the best introduction possible to reading comprehension.

But let's be clear here. While this was a great book before Agent Jones' call... Agent Jones brought the whole thing to life.

How and why did he do this?

How: By treating kids like adults and believing they are capable of more than we give them credit for.

Why: I'll refer you to my "Pinned Tweet" and earlier post to let you know "The Why"

"David if I was to say something along the lines of: 

The reason I am doing this is because the books that I read as a child helped me to find my place in the world and I'd like to pay it forward to help others do the same?' 

Would that be an accurate statement? "Pretty much" 

Chapter 10 - Confidence
Now I'm not sure if this applies to me or Isaac but the result is the same.

I've definitely seen this young lads chest a little more puffed out and more of an "I can do that." Or is it that seeing him with more of an "I can do that" attitude, I'm letting him?

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In the Famous Five and other books our kids had a lot more freedom as the fear of risk was nowhere near it was today.

Richard Branson discussed how much being dropped off in a field close to his Grandmothers house at 4 was both scary and empowering as was cycling from London to Brighton (or was it Bournemouth) when he was 14.

"My mother was determined to make us independent. When I was four, she stopped the car a few miles from our house and made me find my own way home across the fields." Richard Branson Losing My Virginity

Today parents get criticised for letting their kids ride in the New York subway alone (Why I let my 9 Year Old Ride the Subway Alone).

Pokemon Go saw our streets being packed and strangers interacting with one another.

Will Spy Quest see our kids reclaim the streets?

Or would it be more appropriate to ask:

Will Spy Quest see parents allowing our kids to reclaim the streets?

Acknowledgement - User Experience
This post and the experiences of Polybius would not be possible if it was not for the way the author treats the user experience.

While he is building a business it is obvious that nothing gives him more pleasure than speaking to fans... whether meeting existing ones at book signings or winning over new ones through school visits.

I know that ours is by no means a unique experience. The books are great but the way the author treats his reads brings the books to life.

PS Regarding bringing the books to life if you download the Spy Quest app and scan the pictures in the book you'll get some cool messages. Why not make a bigger deal of this cutting edge aspect of the book?

1) I'm big on my old school physical books without all the gadgets and gizmos, and
2) The author does more to bring the books to life than any technology could

... But here's an ad with the AR aspect of the game anyway ;)

Friday, 4 August 2017

Spy Quest Mission - Part 1

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I'm currently following up on some work that I did with Pokemon Go 12 months on from the global sensation. This follow up work has involved a couple of fantastic meetings with Polybius Games Managing Director and Spy Quest Author, David Goucher.

This post details my experience of meeting David in a professional capacity and will be followed up by a personal perspective detailing when my youngest son and I check to see if the "Proof is in the pudding" with this "Ingress for kids" spy guy adventure.

So I'm checking through my old emails regarding the Pokemon Go report that I collaborated with the ISTE DigCitPLN on this time last year. There is an email from East Kilbride MSP Linda Fabiani, asking if I'd heard of Spy Quest.

I recall quickly scanning details about the game but put it in the "Check out later" pile of the to-do list. I check in on this as part of this Pokemon Go follow up and notice an article that I hadn't seen previously:

Spy Quest – East Kilbride Based Polybius Games Sleuths into Hotels and Schools Worldwide

Wow! What an interesting story! I follow Spy Quest and David's Twitter account and we have a bit of a chat which results in us arrange to meet up a few days later.

Reading the article above was the extent of the research before I met David, the reason? Because I like to hear people tell me about their story. The rest of this post is about our meeting and how, where and why I feel this innovative work will have an impact.

We arrange to meet at Waterstones where David's opening comment to me is "I love being surrounded by books, this place is like a second home to me" Ah! A man after my own heart!

My opening question to David is

"If I were to say this was 'Ingress for kids' would that be an accurate description?"

"Absolutely!" comes the reply.

To this day I cannot believe that there was an unknown battle for city landmarks across the world that would soon become the global phenomenon that were (and are) Pokestops... So I'm delighted to be aware that kids will be on secret missions under the guidance of Agent Jones and his team before it becomes a global phenomenon.

As the article above highlights, David was an undercover policeman. What the article does not pick up on are the trials and tribulations that he went through to get into the police. This story is best described by my youngest son when out for a walk where he must have stopped dead about 5 or 6 times to exclaim


Early Struggles
Image result for polybius spy questAs anyone would be, I'm intrigued about the early career and I ask

"So why did you want to be a policeman?"

Looking around the book shelves David answers

"Because of the books I read when I was growing up, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and my favourite, The Three Investigators"

This was not a profession that was encouraged as his parents came from the tradition of learning a trade and getting accepted into the academy was challenging at the time.

After going through Police training he was to find that few forces were hiring but, after 6 years David did something that I regularly tell my own kids... "They can do anything they set their mind to" but quickly follow this up with IF they prepare and do their best!

Once in the force David said that he was so pleased to be doing what he wanted that his growth mindset saw him saying yes to every opportunity that came his way and led to becoming a bona fide spy guy.

This is followed by the kind of questions that must have been asked a million times

"Has your life ever been in danger?"

"Yeah, lots!" comes the reply.

"Anything that you can tell me about?" 

A resolute "No! Afraid not."

David retired from the police force after lining work up with a company that looked promising but was a rather underwhelming experience (Been there, done that and got the T-shirt!).

He could rejoin the force but would lose a few benefits and his wife said

"You've always had this idea of writing a book and the game, why not do it now while we have some savings"

But this was 2008 when the recession was biting and people were not in the mood for innovation so some tough times followed.

Your Mission... If you Choose to Accept it!David starts talking about the game and the results to date.

Like Ingress, the Spy Quest team have quietly been iterating their way to "Product Market Fit" something that can be seen by:
  • Ollie Bray's whitepaper about the game
  • Visits by then Education Secretary, Mike Russell who went on a mission
  • The fact that they are working with 120 Scottish Schools 
  • They have a 100% retention rate with their school partners.
Then there's the fact that one of the first times the game was played at a hotel a Disney executive found it to be such a positive experience the game was that a relationship with Disney soon followed.

"We got lucky" David will tell you about his experiences in startup land.

Oh yeah? And the harder you work the luckier you get!! Thinks me. A lot of thought, planning, hustle and struggle has gone into this.

When researching Pokemon Go I was struck by the fact that John Hanke's vision was around the fact that he  “wanted to build applications that would deepen people’s involvement in their town or community, to encourage people to actually meet up in the real world.”

Can you imagine having a conversation with him about his vision at the point of inception? Can you imagine the strange looks that he got when discussing the idea?

As David is explaining Spy Quest and his vision I ask, "Has this plan changed much from day one when you came up with the idea? Has Ingress and Pokemon Go changed or influenced your plan in any way?"

"Nope! The only thing that's changed is being able to say to investors 'This is Ingress for kids' and they get the idea and concept a little quicker than they did before Ingress came out" Comes the reply.

"It feels like I'm sitting opposite the next John Hanke" I mention getting a sense of this plan and vision.

Culture! Culture! Culture!
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I've recommended a few ideas and projects in this blog. Some have been a passing "This looks promising" in a blog post, others have involved investing a considerable amount of time and heavy recommendation. Not all have been successful.

I look to the culture of these ideas more than ever before! Therefore I want to highlight a little about the things that I feel are important (but which may not matter all that much to others).

One of the best ways to do this is through a question that I asked in our second meeting:

"David if I was to say something along the lines of: 

The reason I am doing this is because the books that I read as a child helped me to find my place in the world and I'd like to pay it forward to help others do the same?' 

Would that be an accurate statement?

"Pretty much" comes the reply, followed by a smile from a kind and friendly face.

But there are all kinds of other things.

  • The passion that Ollie talks about in his post from 2012.
  • The look in his face when he talks about his school visits and book signings
  • The people David is taking with him are the ones that have always been there for him.
  • The fact that his son and his friend feature on the Spy Quest certificates
  • When my son signed into the Spy Quest website as an agent he had been told that he was chosen because of various skills but also because of his kindness

As someone who's been in life and death situations he knows the importance of ensuring that the culture in his team is right as he scales, so Spy Quest may be a little less likely to face many of the challenges that startups do as they scale.

...lastly but by no means least. David is focusing on education when there are all kids of other (easier) markets to scale and roll out in.

So what about the potential impact that Spy Quest could have?

I'm not an educator so I'm not going to say that this will do XYZ in the classroom, especially not when there are white papers about the potential of the game and endorsements by the Scottish Qualification Authority and Education Secretaries.

Have you spotted a theme with some of the projects that I've been involved with and/or supportive of?

Whether my first blog post or supporting the DigCitSummitUK, Pokemon Go, the Skypeathon, exploring Edcamps or talking about Spy Quest.

It's about shaking up the culture, it's about connecting and collaborating. As a society there is a lot of divisiveness as the politics on both sides of the Atlantic demonstrates (US Election, Indyref and Brexit).

There is also a lot of discord between the halves and halve nots. How does this translate on the ground? There can be suspicion towards people in authority and can sometimes include educators... but most definitely can include the police force.

What if... Steve Jobs is right and that

"I’m 100% sure that if it hadn’t been for Mrs Hill in 4th grade and a few others, I would absolutely have ended up in jail. I could see those tendencies in myself to have a certain energy to do something wrong. When you’re young, a little bit of correction goes a long way.”  

Would the impression of authority figures change if Agent Jones was giving our young people some cool spy guy missions? I think they might.

Thought leaders like Malcolm Gladwell highlight that advantages and disadvantages amongst different socio-economic groups are more to do with cultural advantages (Social skills, growth mindsets, confidence building and learning outside of school time).

Equally researchers like Steve Biddulph highlights in raising boys the importance of young boys having male role models in their lives (Something Magic Johnston reiterates in his ASU GSV Summit presentation).

As you will see in the next post, I've seen first hand the confidence and active learning that Spy Quest provided my son... what impact would a real life Spy Camp and Spy Quest competition have for our youngsters in the summer holidays?

We've seen what Pikachu can do to get our kids out and about. I'm noticing that colleges who embraced the game included Pokemon Go in their Kids College programmes.

What could Spy Quest do to exercise our kids minds and aspirations? How empowering would it be for young Spy Quest Agents if they were on missions with college students in the way that youngsters engaged with students on college campuses?

If David Goucher has anything to do with it... A LOT! And I wouldn't like to bet against Agent Jones when he's on a mission!!

How big is this gonna be? Well if this video is anything to go by... It's gonna be big ;)

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